Price: $2,799 to $3,199 (list)
Gibson’s latest version of the Les Paul isn’t the first with f-shaped sound holes. Various Florentine models have been offered, but this semi-hollowbody makes a greater effort than its predecessors to thread the needle between the Les Paul and ES-335. The result is an interesting guitar – and one that’s built in the company’s Memphis facility, to boot.
The ES-Les Paul is, first off, a real looker. It comes with a figured top made of laminated maple and poplar and it’s available in a number of finishes. Our tester came in Historic Burst, which is closest to a mellower late-’50s flame. If you want brighter cherry, check out the Heritage Cherry Sunburst; other vintage-styled finishes include Lemon Burst, Light Burst, and Gold Top VOS, and prices vary according to the finish.
The ES-Les Paul’s neck is mahogany, but interestingly, the back and sides are laminated maple/poplar with a walnut stain – a deep, rich brown hue that is quite attractive. The guitar has a mahogany block running through the body for added sustain, as well as spruce top bracing. Other finish details include an aged-cream pickguard and binding, and a black-faced headstock with an inlaid pearloid Gibson logo.
The guitar’s general features remain in the Les Paul Standard family, including pearloid trapezoid fretboard inlays on a 22-fret rosewood fingerboard and a 24.75″ neck scale. Gibson is calling this neck profile a “Modified 1959” design, which we interpret as a classic feel, but slim and fast. It’s full and wide in the fretting hand without being outright ’50s fat. The neck was also given Gibson’s Plek Pro fretboard-optimization process for excellent intonation right out of the case.
The pickups are Memphis Historic Spec (MHS) Alnico humbuckers (Alnico II in the neck, III in the bridge). Controls comprise the traditional volume and tone for each pickup, plus a three-way toggle switch, and tuners are Kluson single-ring “tulip buttons,” while the bridge is a Tone Pro AVR-2 with a lightweight tail bar. The whole she-bang comes in a nice brown hardshell case with a Gibson certificate of authenticity.
When you pick it up for the first time, two things you may notice about the ES-Les Paul are its bright, unamplified tone and light weight – factors you don’t associate with most Les Pauls. Plugged in and on the job, however, the guitar gives plenty to work with. Both pickups yield a vintage, midrange-accented tone that is useful in numerous situations. Setting our amp to a clean tone, we ran the gamut from country to blues to rock and roll, and every shade in between. Again, the ES-Les Paul has a nice mid-honk to it, so if you need to cut through the mix for solos, this axe should do the job. If you play jazz, by all means put some heavier flatwound strings on – this instrument would be great for the jazzer who likes a lighter, smaller body. Push up the gain a bit and the ES-Les Paul reacts perfectly, turning into an increasingly ferocious rock and blues machine. The heavy center block can also handle just about all the crunch you can send its way. Again, this Gibson Memphis instrument delivers a huge array of tones for the modern player.
In all, it’s hard to argue about anything on this Les Paul. It has a great neck, a world of usable tones, and a body weight that makes it comfy for a long night of gigging. If anything, the ES-Les Paul – like an ES-335 – has perhaps a slightly less aggressive personality than a solid Lester, but that’s to be expected considering the construction. Certainly, if you want an authentic ’50s-style Les Paul, then get a solidbody Gibson with a fat, old-school neck. But we’d be surprised to find any guitarist who didn’t dig the vibe of this clever design. It’s the best of both worlds, featuring sweet tone, an excellent build, and looks to beat the band. We’re pretty sure that both Ted McCarty and even ol’ Les himself would dig it.
This article originally appeared in VG June 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.